After fleeing France to escape persecution, Calvin settled in Geneva at the insistence of Guillaume Farel. But after a mere 18 months of ministry the two were banished from Geneva for disagreeing with the city council. Calvin headed to Strasbourg, where he pastored for three years and married Idelette de Bure, a widow who had two children.
By the year 1541 Calvin’s reputation had spread. He wrote three other books and revised the Institutes. He became close friends with other reformers like Bucer and Melanchthon. And in an ironic twist was asked to return to Geneva by the city authorities, and spent the rest of his life there in ministry.
He was a tireless servant of the Lord who believed that the church should faithfully follow the principles laid down in scripture. Calvin administered this belief diligently. He preached twice every Sunday and every day on alternating weeks. When not preaching he lectured as Old Testament professor three times a week. He served on the church council, which met every Thursday. He was also on committees and was regularly asked for advice related to caring for the poor and needy.
He was appointed by the city of Geneva to the city council (and they paid him). He was a foreigner in Geneva; he was not even a naturalized citizen until near the end of his life. Calvin stood out as a moral authority in the city. His practice was motivated by the belief that, as God’s ambassador, God’s authority stood behind him. As such, he was involved in much that went on in Geneva: All of his work in the church, and along side of that he was involved civically in matters of municipal government from the city constitution, to sewer drains and heating. To say the least, the man was not one to lounge around. He was a driven man!
Calvin drove himself beyond his body’s limits. When he could not walk the couple of hundred yards to church, he was carried in a chair to preach. When the doctor forbade him to go out in the winter air to the lecture room, he crowded the audience into his bedroom and gave lectures there. To those who would urge him to rest, he asked, “What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?” Opposition he sometimes faced intensified his afflictions. People tried to drown his voice by loud coughing while he preached; others fired guns outside the church. Men set their dogs on him. There were even anonymous threats against his life.
Calvin’s body gave out in 1564, but his influence never has. He has influenced the likes of John Knox, George Whitefield, Karl Barth, and the entire movement of the Puritans.
Before we leave John Calvin, we need to acknowledge that for all his credits, he was a fallen man with sinful tendencies like the rest of us. His driven-ness was, in itself, problematic. We are told in writings about Calvin that he grew impatient as he aged. When he was patient, people often found him unsympathetic. As time wore on Calvin “showed little understanding, little kindness, and certainly little humor.” (Christian History Magazine)
Calvin was heavily involved in civil government, being there led to his role in the infamous execution of Michael Servetus in 1553 (Calvin’s involvement was not in an official capacity). Servetus fled to Geneva to escape Catholic authorities: he had denied the Trinity, a blasphemy that merited death in the 1500s all over Europe. Geneva authorities didn’t have any more patience with heresy than did Catholics, and with the full approval of Calvin, they put Servetus to death.
There he is … a flawed man, in a flawed culture, living a flawed life. Does he remind you of anyone? He reminds me of that guy that stares back at me every time I stare into the mirror. As I look in that mirror I am reminded of Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthian church (A flawed church if I remember correctly), chapter 4 verses 5-7 (in the New Living Translation):
5 You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
Great words to remember when you look in the mirror!
See You Sunday,